After reviewing everything from medical journals to research from the Centers for Disease Control, a Northwest think tank says that sprawl, aside from being a handy target for local growthophobes, could be killing us. The 2006 Cascadia Scorecard from the Sightlines Institute, a Seattle-based nonprofit research center, said that the Idaho obesity rate has nearly doubled since 1990, partly as a result of physical inactivity. More time in cars, driving in and out of sprawling suburbs and exurbs, the report states, exposes citizens to more road hazards, too.
"The toll from car crashes and obesity-related disease is a tragedy that's largely overlooked because it unfolds slowly," said Clark Williams-Derry, the research director for the Sightline.
In the Treasure Valley, Dr. Laura Tirrell said she's been watching the expansion of Idaho's waistlines at the medical clinic level. She spent most of the last 15 years with Terry Reilly Health Services, where she saw an increase in both obesity and diabetes in patients at that community medical center. Now at St. Alphonsus, Tirrell said she began to see trends in Mexican immigrant patients who used to lead more ambulatory lives and who now spend more time in their cars.
"They were just piling on this weight because they weren't walking anywhere any more," Tirrell said. "They moved to a car economy, and the body-mass index started climbing. We saw this big weight gain happening."
Now she sees the same thing happening to people all across the ever-growing Treasure Valley. New data from the U.S. Census shows that it's communities around Boise--Meridian, Star and Nampa--that are growing the fastest.
Call it one more argument for better mass transit, Tirrell said.
"People are leaner in urban areas with mass transit," she said. "What we're seeing happen to the people of Idaho happens nationally. People are dependent on the auto rather than depending on walking."